MAN OF THE CENTURY by James Thayer


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 Charming, deftly amusing pastiche purporting to be the dictated memoirs of a 108-year-old scallywag who boxed, swindled, and seduced numerous historical personalities in his long life--and may even have started WW I, all while chasing the girl of his dreams. Departing from his customary gung-ho thrillers, Thayer (White Star, 1995, etc.) delivers a hilarious historical farce told through the eyes of Woodrow Lowe, a working-class Boston Irishman who, in 1879 at age 15, is smitten with the upper-class charms of Amy Balfour, daughter of the founder of the Massachusetts State Bank, when he stops the hard-drinking boxer John L. Sullivan from coldcocking her carriage horse. Amy and her snobbish brother Richard repulse Lowe's bumbling, shanty-town advances, with the grasping, mercenary Amy rudely ridiculing him. After abandoning his day job in his father's saloon, Lowe supports his nascent prizefighter's career by dusting the floor of Harvard's gym. There, on a bet, he knocks out future Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt, who later befriends him, enlists him as a spy, and sends him out on a series of increasingly hairsbreadth (and ribald) adventures. Throughout his travels, Lowe survives by pluck and happy accidents, and even, eventually, finds true lust--in the arms of Tzu Hsi, the Empress Dowager of China. Along the way, he not only blunders up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders but cuts a deal with Diamond Jim Brady that will enable him to avenge himself on the ever- disdainful, cruel Amy and her slimy brother. Ultimately, he gets his face carved into the whiskers of Roosevelt's moustache on Mount Rushmore. Writing in the tradition of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, Thayer revels in the burlesque he adds to our otherwise overly romanticized past, gleefully transforming numerous well-known sacred cows--such as haughty Civil War General Philip Sheridan-- into braying jackasses. In all, a breezy, impeccably researched picaresque: the best book of Thayer's career.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-55611-512-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Donald Fine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1997


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